Established in 1974, the Vancouver Multicultural Society is the longest serving agency in British Columbia with the sole purpose of promoting multiculturalism. The agency acts as a base for ethno-cultural groups and organizations to come together and engage in dialogue. The society currently consists of a multitude of non-governmental organizations, ethno-cultural groups, private companies, as well as individuals. Their goal is to advance multiculturalism, social justice and anti-racism.
The society’s main focus is advocacy on behalf of newcomers to Canada. The group’s aim is to help make integration into Vancouver society more accessible and manageable.
The society has also taken on and implemented several public educational initiatives. It often conducts anti-racism campaigns.
John Halani, past president and current board member, voices concerns the organization has for new Canadians.
According to Halani, it takes time for newcomers to engage in society and participate in the local political scene because they do not have the money or time to get involved right away.
He adds that it usually takes new immigrants at least three to five years to get actively involved in local politics. This is because they are often still in the midst of getting settled. Halani would like to see a bigger increase in cross-cultural relations this year among new immigrants.
“We would like to see harmony between the Canadian people and the newcomers,” he explains. Halani says the society helps new Canadians adjust to their new lives in Vancouver through a number of programs.
Although the society has been around for 38 years, it is still mostly unknown to the general public. Halani admits that the organization has been largely inactive in the last couple of years. However, he says that society members are working to increase the organization’s visibility.
“We are starting to promote … [the Vancouver Multicultural Society] more [and] we will be doing lots of projects this year … [we will] try and find new ways to make [the organization] active again.”
Like all projects, the need for funding is essential before work begins.
One of the prospective projects planned for the new year is the Community Dialogue, which will allow different communities to come together and discuss the issues and challenges facing multiculturalism. In addition, it will help foster conversations and provide a platform where individuals interested in the issues facing multicultural societies can come together and talk.
The society is working with the federal government and other organizations to tackle racism and improve the status of human rights. In the past, it has entered into contracts with government agencies to help create anti-racism and human rights initiatives.
Halani believes that dialogue is the best way to bring awareness to the various issues facing multicultural communities.
He adds that schools must implement programs to ensure that racism and discrimination are kept out of the education system.
Previously, the society has worked with schools to give awards to students in order to celebrate their achievements and community service work.
“We used to select one student from each of the 18 schools in Vancouver,” Halani explains.
On the issue of human rights, the Vancouver Multicultural Society has not yet created anything substantial.
Halani admits that they are far behind in creating the change needed to promote and preserve human rights within multicultural society. The organization has not yet addressed the issue facing ethnic women who are more susceptible to exploitation, abuse in their work environment, and harsh working conditions.
The start of the new year brings with it new goals and new projects. The society has a long agenda that will definitely require time, funding and public support.